Baseball is back. As we get closer to the regular season, be sure to stop by The Stew each morning for your daily helping of spring storylines.
STEPHEN STRASBURG DEBUTS HIS SLIDER: Stephen Strasburg spent the winter before his third full season adding a new pitch to his repertoire. Strasburg made his first spring start Tuesday and debuted his slider as part of his strong outing for the Washington Nationals against the Atlanta Braves.
Strasburg pitched two scoreless innings, needing only 15 pitches. Three of those were his new slider, which hit 86, 86 and 88 on the radar gun. One of them struck out Justin Upton. Meanwhile, Strasburg's fastball topped out at 96 mph. After the game, he said:
"I want it to look like a fastball as much as possible,'' Strasburg said. ''I'm not going to dump my other off-speed stuff, but I don't want them to be able to cheat on the fastball as much.''
In addition to developing the slider, Strasburg also had surgery in the offseason to clean up bone chips in his elbow.
JAMES SHIELDS PROBABLY WON'T GET A NEW CONTRACT SOON: The Kansas City Royals and ace James Shields don't appear to be close to a contract extension as opening day, Shields' deadline for a new deal, quickly approaches. Shields will be a free agent after the season, and has previously said he doesn't want to talk contract during the season.
If the Royals want to lock up Shields — whom they acquired by trading Wil Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays last winter — they'll need to get moving. Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star says the two sides haven't engaged in negotiations on a new deal:
Team officials refuse to rule out attempting to retain Shields, but it appears that attempt will not occur until next winter, when rival executives expect him to fetch a contract in excess of $100 million.
General manager Dayton Moore stressed the Royals view Shields as a player they hope to retain past this season. But he declined to elaborate on any sort of timetable.
“It doesn’t benefit the Kansas City Royals, or anyone involved, to talk about this stuff publicly,” he said.
GRANDERSON HITS A PAIR: Curtis Granderson has found the key to being loved by New York Mets fans all year long. Granderson, who crossed town this offseason to join the Mets, just needs to hit two home runs every game, like he did in Tuesday's game against the Houston Astros. Elsewhere, Zack Wheeler pitched three scoreless innings in his spring debut, allowing just two hits and striking out three. In other words: It was a good day for the Mets.
RANGERS ADD JOE SAUNDERS: With a few question marks still on their pitching staff, the Texas Rangers have reportedly signed veteran starter Joe Saunders to a contract. The Rangers will be without Derek Holland for a few months and Matt Harrison isn't 100 percent. Saunders, 32, isn't coming off a great 2013, though. He had a 5.26 ERA with the Seattle Mariners. He's expected to compete for the job as Texas' No. 5 starter.
JOHAN SANTANA'S DEAL WITH THE ORIOLES IS OFFICIAL: We told you Monday that Johan Santana and the Baltimore Orioles reportedly had agreed on a minor-league contract. Well, it's now official. Santana, 34, is coming off shoulder surgery that sidelined him for 2013. If he makes the 40-man roster, he'll make $3 million.
ANDY DIRKS NEEDS BACK SURGERY: The Detroit Tigers will be without left fielder Andy Dirks for at least three months. He needs back surgery to clear up a disk problem that's been lingering since high school. The Tigers signed Rajai Davis in the offseason and planned for him to platoon with Dirks. Now, Detroit will lean on Davis further.
TED LILLY GETS FRONT-OFFICE GIG WITH CUBS: Pitcher Ted Lilly, who retired in 2013 after 15 MLB seasons, has a new job off the field. He's joining the Chicago Cubs as a special assistant to team president Theo Epstein. Lilly pitched four seasons with the Cubs.
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